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Bruins, Habs, bitter rivals, focus on big two points

Wednesday, 03.23.2011 / 3:59 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Bruins, Habs, bitter rivals, focus on big two points
While fans and media may be expecting fireworks when the Canadiens and Bruins face off Thursday, the players say their only focus is winning the game.
Shawn Thornton wasn't about to tip-toe past the obvious.

"It's a rivalry," the Bruins forward told NHL.com during a phone interview Wednesday. "We don't like them and they don't like us, and I don't think that will ever change."

Thursday's game at TD Garden between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET, TSN) figures to be emotional for more than just the simple fact that it is yet another installment of this great Original Six rivalry.

The Canadiens still are smarting from the controversial hit a little over two weeks ago by Boston captain Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty that left the Montreal forward with a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra. It was only a month and a half ago that these teams played a game in Boston that included 14 goals, 12 fighting majors, 14 roughing minors and seven misconduct penalties.

It's hard to turn up the heat on an almost 90-year-old rivalry, but the Bruins and Habs appear to have done that over the last six weeks. Thursday's match already has created what feels like playoff-type hype as many wonder if it'll turn nasty.

"I don't know, and I don't worry about it, that's for sure," Thornton said. "Our team doesn't go looking for it, but where it needs to be taken care of it's taken care of. We don't back down from anything."

Judging by the answers the Canadiens and Bruins gave to reporters after their respective practices Wednesday, there may not be a lot for on-ice officials and NHL disciplinarians to worry about.

Boston leads Montreal by three points in the race for the Northeast Division, and the standings, more than anything, appear to be the only concern for either team. Montreal has won four of the five meetings between the clubs this season, including once in overtime, but the Bruins have the cushion in points, with two games in hand and one more non-shootout victory.

"We're all glad Max is moving around, but at this point in the season the points are crucial," Canadiens center Scott Gomez told reporters at the team's practice facility in Brossard, Que. "I'm sure everyone else is going to really hype it up, but that's part of the game."

Chara threw the reporters at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass., for a loop when he told them that he's "made a few attempts" to contact Pacioretty since the incident March 8, "but he hasn't responded back yet. So far, nothing."

Nevertheless, the divisional playoff race was very much at the forefront of Chara's mind, not the possibility that Montreal will seek retribution for their injured teammate.

"If you look at the standings it looks like (Bruins-Canadiens) could be the (playoff) matchup, so we'll see what's going to happen in the next 10 games," Chara said. "We all know it's a big game for both teams. The rivalry is there and the competition is there. We just need to focus on our game and establish what we're working on in the last game. We're focusing on our game."

The Bruins struggled in the aftermath of their controversial 4-1 loss to Montreal. They came into that game having earned 15 out of a possible 16 points in their previous eight games, but went just 1-2-2 in the next five. They put together a strong effort in a 4-1 win against New Jersey on Tuesday to extend their lead on the Canadiens to three points, and are hoping they're back on track.

"We got away from some things that made us successful," Thornton said. "I don't know if that game (against Montreal) had anything to do with it, but we did get away from some things we needed to be better at."

The Canadiens have battled inconsistencies since their last meeting with the Bruins, alternating wins and losses in their past seven games. Their worst performance came Tuesday against Buffalo when, according to defenseman P.K. Subban, they played emotionless hockey at Bell Centre and lost 2-0.

"Our emotions have to be in check at all times," Subban told reporters Wednesday. "I mean, look at a game like last game -- there was no emotion. We have to bring it every night and play with that edge."

Montreal coach Jacques Martin need not worry about his team playing without emotion Thursday. The building will be electric, but no one seemed too concerned about things getting out of hand even though recent history would suggest anything is possible.

"We're not going there with vengeance (in mind); our vengeance is we want to beat them because we want to try to catch them," Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche said. "Of course it's going to be physical and it's in Boston so it'll be an emotional game, but we're not worried about that. Our biggest motivation is to catch them and get that home-ice advantage because, let's face it, if we catch them there's still very good odds that we will play them in the playoffs. We want home ice. That's our big incentive."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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